Kevin Saldana / Minor Leagues
BLURRING THE LINE
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SEMI-PRO AND MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
By KEVIN M SALDANA
I have been researching the history of professional baseball for more then 20 years. I have most enjoyed researching the smaller Class "D" leagues, for many every move was a life and death decision. I have enjoyed watching a struggling league go from an idea and a dream to the playing field. Some of leagues in their struggles shifted teams from one town to another before opening day in search of playing fields and enough money to open their first season. On the other end of the scale, I have enjoyed researching in a morbid sort of way the dying leagues. The leagues that issue expansion franchises and shift existing clubs in the vain hope that they will see the next opening day.
If I have meet with any frustrations, it is in the independent and outlaw leagues of years gone by. Not the independent leagues of recent vintage like the Northern , Texas-Louisiana (Now Central League), Frontier and Western Leagues, but the leagues in baseballs early years. Sports leagues are classified into one of three categories: Amateur, Semi-Professional or Professional. The line between amateur and semi-pro is an easy one to draw, if no players on a team are paid to play the game the team or league is clearly amateur. If a team so much as plays one player who is paid to pay, them the team and the league in which the play is semi-pro.
My frustrations lie in telling the difference between semi-pro and fully professional or minor league teams. It should be a fairly easy line to draw however, it is not. One of the easiest lines that one could draw is, are the players on the team making a living during the season playing baseball or are they supplementing their income by playing? Another popular line is are all players paid to play? A line popular with the folks in organized baseball is, was the league a member of the National Association (Now simply called Minor League Baseball)? Some leagues passed the National Association test however, they may not passed the first test. Leagues such as the 1907 Southern New Hampshire League, the 1910 Southern California League and the 1910-11 Central California League were members of the National Association but, only played games once a week. I for one would enjoy the opportunity to make a living by going to work once a week. I would have to say that these leagues were probably semi-pro at best.
This problem is not even restricted to the first 10 years or so of the organization either. The Class "E" Twin Ports League of 1943, the only Class "E" league ever, is another questionable case. The leagues players were required to have war industry jobs. Sorry boss, I can not come to work tonight, I have a game. This point is one that frustrates me when I talk to casual fans about minor league baseball. I hear people say that minor league player will never make to the pros. Again, I have a hard time believing that a member of the Durham Bulls goes to his boss and says I can not come to work next week, my baseball team is going on a roadtrip. Folks a player playing minor league baseball is paid to leave his hometown and play baseball for a living, there is no other job during the season.
Getting back to the main part of the article, many professional leagues simply chose not to be members of the National Association for one reason or another. Many leagues played semi-pro ball for many years and then decided to enter the National Association as professional leagues. What did these leagues do between seasons to cross the line? The Cape Breton Colliery League comes to mind. The league played many years as a semi-pro league before entering the National Association with a season schedule of 48 games. The California State League of 1915 played a weekend only schedule and then disappeared from the National Association scene until 1929. The league played semi-pro for many of their missing years. When the name California State League did return it was not same league but the Southern California League revived. The old California State League was functioning as a semi-pro league at the same time. At least the semi-pro version was based in Northern California.
It may seem that I am frustrated as baseball researcher but, I am not. My many joys have been in finding and understanding items that no one else seemed have understood before. Maybe I should be saying, I find joy in retrieving lost items from history and explaining them in a new way from a different angle. The one test I use most of all to see if a league was professional or semi-pro is this, what did the league itself bill itself as. Even if the league or team was not who they said they were, the historian can explain his or her findings to the contrary without seeming jaded. I also believe that you must consider and present what those who wrote the first draft of history had to say, the journalists of the day. When one does write the history of a team or league I believe that it is the duty of the historian to present all the evidence and write the whole story, thereby allowing the reader to decide and interpret for themselves what really happened. Many leagues may have blurred the lines on both sides in many different, often creative ways, but when all the evidence is presented the truth usually becomes quite clear.